7-10-4 Spiritual Dangers Of The Single Life
Having said all that we have above, the single life is deceptively spiritually
dangerous. Many in the world are increasingly opting against marriage-
for selfish motives. There's nothing like living alone for bringing
out the animal selfishness in daily life which we should utterly
shun. Yet singleness not only tempts one to be selfish in practical
ways. It can breed a despicable focus on self to the exclusion of
sensitivity to all others. For some, there is the sense that everyone
else is somehow OK, and they are the only person in the world suffering
as they are. Much of the world's advice to singles is hopelessly
self-centred. One 'Christian' strategy for singles includes:
" On paper, describe your ideal mate...consider your best interests...God
wants you to have a great future...appraise your needs" (1).
This is exactly the opposite, it seems to me, of where our emphasis
should be. The stress is all on self, self-benefit, and the idea
that God wants to give us an easy ride now as well as future salvation.
This kind of advice is sadly not absent from the brotherhood. The
emphasis is all on self, and the idea that one day
marriage will come. This inculcates a mind-set dominated by the
" When I get married..." syndrome, a looking forward to
that day rather than the Kingdom.
Single believers can become so absorbed in themselves that the selfless
spirit of the cross is lost. Perhaps this is one of the greatest spiritual
dangers of the single life. This is why 1 Cor. 7 doesn't advocate singleness
in itself; it suggests a rejection of marriage in order that
the subsequent energies can be directed into a relationship with the Lord
Jesus. If we don't do this, then the single person will be consumed by
their own sexual and emotional energy; they will become so obsessed with
their single state that they fail to hear the call of service. Of course,
Abraham wasn't single. But he had no seed, and his relationship with Sarah
seems to have been in some ways rocky. And yet his energy to serve shines
through the Genesis records. Perhaps one reason for this was because of
the way in which he didn't fix his mind upon (Gk.) the fact his body was
dead (i.e. impotent) and unable to produce seed (Rom. 4:19). He
wasn't obsessed with his state, yet he lived a life of faith that
ultimately God's Kingdom would come, he rejoiced at the contemplation
of Christ his Lord; and he filled his life with practical service.
He wasn't obsessed with the fact that in his marital position he personally
couldn't have children when it seemed this was what God wanted him to
do; and this was very pleasing to God.
If single believers do 'fix their mind upon' getting married, their thinking
will tend to revolve around one ideal person. And that person will not
be the Lord Jesus. Their mentality will be dominated by 'getting', rather
than growing in realization that we are here to give, give and give, not
to receive. They become prone to allow their horizons to be filled with
the possibility of finding this one person, and therefore their commitment
to the rest of the body becomes minimal. Thus a wife-hunting brother might
eagerly travel any distance to a church gathering where he knows there
will be some eligible sisters; but not make the effort to attend Bible
Class in his own church, comprised of elderly believers [purely fictitious
example]. Single believers in this state will not be living life; they'll
be living with the feeling that they've just got to hold on a bit longer,
and then the glorious day of marriage will come. But living in
this state of uncertainty takes away from real life; they are living in
a state of temporary, half-conscious suspension until their dream comes
true. And yet we ought to be running a race towards that moment when we
will " win Christ" - not towards some short term objective like
marriage. The spiritual dangers of the single life are really complex.
Beauty And The Beast
I've left until last what is perhaps the most evident of the spiritual
dangers of the single life. We are built as sexual creatures. There is
that desire, as explained in Gen. 2:24, for man and woman to come
together, to become one flesh. It's no use denying the energy that is
within us to that end. The Biblical way of expressing this energy in a
sexual way is through marriage. If human beings don't express that energy,
they become angry and bitter. And yet the great change in society over
the past 200 years means that now many people live alone. The result
of this is that they express their sexual energy in ways other than marriage.
The world has become adept at providing a quick fix to sink that energy.
But of course the quick fix syndrome has always been with us. Throughout
Old and New Testament times, the quick fix was provided by temple prostitutes,
their popularity so much the greater because they left men with the sense
that they had been participating in something divine rather than carnal.
So many of the warnings against adultery and fornication are in this context.
Indeed, the Greek word translated " fornication" is porneia,
from whence " porn" . In most cases it doesn't refer to going
too far with your girlfriend (not that we are condoning that); it refers
to the use of temple prostitutes. Israel's endless fascination with the
groves, idols and asherah poles of the Canaanite tribes was the Old Testament
equivalent. So the repeated message is: 'Don't take the quick
fix, reject expresso-love, build up relationships, see sexuality in its
intended context, not isolated as it is in pornography'. It seems that
there were some in the first century who reasoned: " Meats for the
belly, and the belly for meats" , implying that satisfying our sexual
needs was just the same as satisfying our physical hunger. Hence Paul's
response: " [No...] the body is not for fornication" (1 Cor.
It's possible that sometimes " fornication" refers to a way
of life and thinking rather than just the specific physical actions. Thus
1 Pet. 4:3 speaks of how before conversion " we walked (lived day
by day) in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine..." (10).
It doesn't mean that all day every day Peter and those brethren had committed
fornication; but it was a way of life that got a grip on their personality.
And so it is today, although made much worse by the ingenuity of man.
That sexual impurity is a state of mind was of course taught by the Lord
Himself (Mt. 5:28). The temptation for many Christian singles is to be
clever enough to keep their nose clean in terms of actual relationships,
but to allow the mind to dissipate the sexual energy of our natures. Of
course, sexual attraction and arousal is to some degree spontaneous, and
there is therefore nothing sinful about it in itself. But the age old
question arises: how far can we go? To answer this in physical terms would
be inappropriate. It's the state of mind that is important.
So, we have strong sexual energy. It is difficult to live in this world
without expressing it. This is obviously one of the spiritual dangers
of the single life. God's intended way of our expressing it is through
marriage. And yet marriage is fraught with problems, and seems not advisable
in the last days, according to 1 Cor. 7. The single life is also extremely
difficult, if by " single" we mean single as the world understands
it; living without a partner. It's difficult to be spiritual if we are
single, and it's very hard to keep in all our sexual energy. We almost
must express it. When Jepthah's daughter realized she couldn't
ever have sex because of her father's vow, she wept for two months (Jud.
11:37 GNB). This was some of that energy coming out another way. So from
where we have reached, both Biblically and psychoanalytically, it seems
God is putting us in these last days into a no-win situation. He's given
us this sexual energy, which almost has to come out. But He suggests that
in the last days, marriage will bring its share of problems too. Yet the
single life has its great problems and temptations. But God wants our
good, both now and eternally. He has provided a way of escape. Sorry for
the cliff-hanger. But we'll consider it in the next two sections.
(1) Helena Wilkinson,
op cit pp. 72-74.